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16.04.2019 Feature Article

There’s No Need To Swim In Sweat In The Hot African Desert!

There’s No Need To Swim In Sweat In The Hot African Desert!

Dumsor is back, then, is it?
I know people who have been deprived of power in parts of Accra for 12 or even 24 hours at a time.

No warning.
No explanation.
And when the power does come back, it costs the earth. Which makes one wonder: are we really producing and distributing power in the most cost-effective manner?

I don’t have the answer, but one thing I know is this: if you give too much power – especially monopolistic power -- to any economic entity (be it privately-owned or a public-owned utility) or joint enterprise, it will manage to be quite inefficient in carrying out its core functions.

The British Labour Party, after years of watering down its policies regarding the ownership of public utilities, (it did this mainly to please the IMF!) has been forced, by the sheer number of complaints it receives from the public on the rapacious behaviour of the denationalised public utilities, to promise that it will renationalise some of them if it gets back into power.

This new move announced by Labour poses a serious risk to its chances of winning an election in Britain. For the demon bogey of nationalisation has been flogged to death by Conservative Party propagandists, who exercise a great deal of control over the British media.

Here is a Reuters report on the issue:
“National Grid [company’s] shares fell more than 3 percent… after the BBC reported that Britain’s main opposition Labour party is preparing to announce plans to renationalise the utility…. The report…[said] the Labour party would release a policy paper outlining the plan to transfer the utility back to public ownership.”

Another UK utility company, Thames Water, has “told [its shareholders] that they will be able to demand their money back if a future Labour government renationalises the utility…It said: "future intervention" by the Government could affect the company's ability to meet obligations.

Labour argues that taking water into public ownership would end "rip-off" prices and excessive dividends.” The Thames Water document highlighted “Labour's policy of renationalising the UK water industry, along with others such as gas, electricity and the railways.”

The clue to the Labour Party’s thinking is given in the words “rip-off” prices that appear in the Thames Water document.

Opponents of nationalization usually argue that “competition” in the market forces denationalised companies to offer cheaper prices to consumers than “over-bloated” nationalized industries. But the experience on the ground in the UK has been – generally -- that train fares, as well as water, electricity/gas and communications bills, have been rising steadily, despite the ever-extolled virtues of “competition”.

This is in spite of the existence of “regulatory bodies” that are supposed to keep an eye

on the prices charged by the utility companies.
What is undeniable, though, is that whether they are privately-owned or not, utility companies cannot escape increases in their productioncosts. They have to pass these on to their customers, even if they take advantage of the high cost of production to charge their customers more than they should.

And it’s with regard to increased costs of production that I would like to recommend to the Government, a policy of approaching, with greater urgency, the issue of using solar power to produce electricity.

The Government would do well to study in detail, how Morocco, which is not an excessively rich country, has been able to raise money to implement a solar energy programme that is the envy of countries scores of times richer than Morocco.

A CNN report published in February 2019 stated that “Morocco [is] in the fast lane, with the world's largest concentrated solar farm”. Here are excerpts from the report:

Ouarzazate, Morocco (CNN)
“Built on an area of more than 3,000 hectares - [or] the size of 3,500 football fields -- the Noor-Ouarzazate [solar energy] complex, produces enough electricity to power a city the size of Prague, or twice the size of Marrakesh.

“Situated at the gateway to the Sahara Desert [in the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate] the whole complex provides 580 megawatts….[It is] one of most ambitious energy targets in the world. The goal is for 42% of [Morocco’s] power to come from renewable sources by 2020. The country is well on track to hit its target …with 35% of its energyalready renewable, thanks to sites such as Noor Ouarzazate...

“Unlike conventional solar panels, which deliver energy direct to the grid, curved mirrors concentrate radiation to heat tubes of fluid, which are pumped to a power unit. The unit holds the energy for use at a later time -- specifically at night -- when demand is greater. A cylinder full of salt is melted by the warmth from the mirrors during the day, and stays hot enough at night to provide up to three hours of power, according to the World Bank, which financed construction of the plant with a $400 million loan, combined with $216 million provided from the Clean Technology Fund.

“Imported fossil fuels currently provide for 97% of Morocco's energy needs... As a result, the country is keen to diversify and start using renewable energy…[A project manager]explained to CNN that "Morocco is an emergent country, [whose] electricity demand… has doubled since 2010”.

By 2030, the manager added, Morocco wants to be one of the first countries in the world where renewables will exceed the proportion of energy produced by fossil fuels.

If Morocco has been able to persuade the World Bank and the Clean Technology Fund to lavish over half a billion dollars into the project, then it means the country’s energy programme is viable enough to become eventually self-sustaining.

Morocco was also able to raise internal resources to invest in the project, floating international bonds to make up for the financial shortfall. Ghana has been raising loans abroad, but mainly to refinance debts or balance the budget. Surely, the country’s performance on the bond markets should encourage the Government to raise money that way, to finance the diversification of our energy sources and save us from the re-emergence of Dumsor every time we encounter a problem with our gas supplies or hydro-electric plants?

Morocco lies in the immensely hot Sahara Desert, but because of its cheap/efficient energy supply system, its citizens are able to sleep well at night (through air-conditioning) whilst at the same time, its industrial growth is proceeding by leaps and bounds. Yes, investment in power-production always pays (as we in Ghana have learnt from the Akosombo Dam, without which we would be far worse off than we have been over the past four or so decades).

Our Government should therefore be bold and think BIG on solar power, now. For just as the Nkrumah Government is praised – even by its enemies – for having had the foresight to build the Akosombo Dam, so will the Akufo-Addo Government be blessed by future generations, if it is able to produce more electricity for Ghana by using cheap, solar power.

What Morocco has done, Ghana too can do!

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2019

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist. Author column: CameronDuodu

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